The 3rd part of our ASO Guide for iOS apps will help you to learn how to use all the available resources to reach the top in the App Store!
In ASO Guide Part 3, we provide an in-depth look at how to leverage other resources and techniques to encourage the successful growth of your mobile iOS app or game on the App Store by Apple. Learn all you need to know about the best, most effective App Store Optimization of categories, in-app purchase listings, ratings and reviews, localization, contacts with editors, and more. (See ASO Guide Part 1 for the guidelines on how to optimize texts and ASO Guide Part 2 for the guidelines on how to leverage graphics, including images and videos.)
Categories are designed to group apps based on their scope and functionality in order to streamline the app discovery process on the App Store.
Looking for an iOS app that serves a certain purpose or another, users often browse the corresponding categories. That's why it is essential to choose the right category for your apps. Failure to make the right choice may well lead to serious issues with your app's discoverability, let alone a chance to get it rejected by Apple after review if you try to pick a category which is misleading or simply irrelevant to what your app does.
Note: If you are lucky, no bad intention is noticed, and everything else is fine with your app submission, there are known cases that Apple may decide to change the category for you without rejecting it for the reason of your wrong category assignment.
Apple seems to understand that a mobile app can generally relate to more than one category. However, categorization along with the discovery facilitation it brings could be compromised if one app appear in too many categories at the same time. So on Apple’s App Store, you can choose as many as two categories in the app metadata — a so-called primary category and a so-called secondary category. The primary category is especially meaningful for an app's ability to be discovered, because it determines exactly where it appears across the App Store, when users browse or filter the app search results. The secondary category is optional, but when assigned, it extends discoverability as your iOS app becomes visible in more places. However, the primary one is here to stay as the key factor.
Note that iOS apps for kids aged up to 11 years old, for which you are supposed to check the 'Made for Kids' box and pick a suitable age band during submission, can have two extra primary and secondary categories in addition to 'Kids.'
For iOS games, up to two 'Games' subcategories are available for assignment. In this case, the App Store’s users can discover your game in the subcategories on the store as well as in the 'Games' subcategory charts.
1. Choose categories that best describe what your app is all about, its core subject matter and functionality. Think in which categories your potential users may be searching for an app like yours.
2. Learn from competitors — look how iOS apps with a similar purpose and user experience are categorized.
3. Analyze categories from the point of view of conversion — popularity, competition, download rates, and how much it takes to get to the top. Generally speaking, sometimes top visibility within a smaller category appears to be more effective than middle or low-level listing in a big one.
4. Make sure to specify the maximum possible number of categories. Although the primary category is the primary dictator of where your app appears, you should not ignore the chance to set the secondary one when it's so easy to obtain. Do not forget that iOS apps for kids and iOS games have additional categorization opportunities.
5. Change app categories to try better performing ones — for a chance to get more impressions (but be ready for a stronger competition), or less popular ones — for a potentially easier way up to the category top (but get prepared for a lower visibility). This step is essential if you see that people actually use your app in a different way than you expected. You can also try it to check if the same keywords can perform better in a different category. However, be very careful with category switches and always make sure the new category is still relevant to the user experience of your app, your keywords, imagery, and so on to avoid troubles with Apple.
Generally, category changes can be fruitful. One of the most sound examples of this is Twitter who switched the primary category on Apple’s App Store from 'Social Networking,' where it was consistently placed in Top 10, to less competitive 'News,' where it quickly obtained position #1 that brought it a better visibility, more traffic, more downloads, and consequently, secured higher positions for Twitter’s official iOS app in the overall rankings.
‘Ratings & Reviews’ is the place on an app's product page where users can leave feedback about their experience with a certain mobile app or game and where this feedback is aggregated (and displayed along with the developer’s individual replies starting from iOS 10.3). Even though in terms of ASO this section has no keyword-driven influence on visibility, it is immensely important for how an app ranks in the search results all over the App Store, let alone a gigantic impact on conversion rates from both search and product page.
Naturally, if your iOS app provides users with a great, unique experience, they are more likely to give it positive reviews along with high ratings. The Apple App Store's search ranking algorithm takes these into account and shows your app higher in the search results, boosting its discoverability. At the same time, high ratings and positive reviews intrinsically motivate new users to engage with your app — learn more about it and install it at the end. Also, such favorable feedback from a number of detached observers who have already given your app a try pitches first-time users' expectations at a determinately positive wave, which should psychologically boost their first-impression excitement and therefore encourage better retention rates.
Each user is able to rate apps and games based on a scale of one to five stars, which is considered an individual rating. A written review can be provided in addition but is optional. The dedicated ‘Ratings & Reviews’ section with all individual ratings and reviews is located on a product page between the developer's name and ‘What's New.’ Here, users see a so-called summary rating calculated automatically from individual ratings, the total number of user ratings submitted, and the top review. Users can also look at all of the ratings and explore their distribution.
Note: On devices with iOS 10 and earlier, your app’s summary rating is shown based on absolutely all ratings that users have given to the app so far. In iOS 11 and later versions of iOS, users see it based on all ratings submitted after September 19, 2017.
Calculated separately for each specific territory, the summary rating is also displayed at the very top of the product page and in the search results along with the total number of ratings. Apple allows developers to reset the summary rating when an app's new version is released. This does not remove any past reviews and they remain to be accessible on the product page. Such a reset can be helpful, however, when the new major update you are releasing brings significant fixes and improvements to the app that make previous complaints and concerns of users obsolete as they are now properly addressed and resolved.
Although naturally delivering an excellent overall user experience is the most effective way to encourage favorable reviews and positive ratings on the App Store, Apple makes it possible for developers to prompt users to rate their apps and write individual reviews. In the latest versions of iOS, users do not even need to leave the app anymore to do that.
1. Aim to get always more and better ratings and reviews as these are a critically important part of the App Store optimization, bearing a knowingly significant impact on how relevant your iOS app is considered by Apple's system to be. First, the higher your app's ratings, the higher it ranks in the search results on the App Store. Second, having a lot of high individual ratings and positive reviews from happy users helps such a mobile app stand out from others, encouraging new installs. Third, you can actually receive a lot of invaluable information from users that can reveal bottlenecks in the functionality, design, development, and all the other aspects, to be taken into account when directing your roadmap of future development efforts thanks to such 'live test' results.
2. Start with asking all your teammates, friends, family, and probably other acquaintances to rate your iOS app right after it is launched on Apple’s App Store. In addition to the organic impact, this will create a favorable atmosphere on your product page.
3. Prompt users to rate your app. Instead of hurrying up, only do so after they have enjoyed at least a couple of sessions and at a moment when you believe they should feel most satisfied and excited about their experience with the app (e.g. when a mission is completed, an achievement received, and so on). Avoid irritating users by blatantly interrupting any particular in-app activity, especially when such an activity may well be time-sensitive; instead, find a logical pause where your request can most seamlessly fit in. Do not forget to make sure your app is stable before asking them to rate it.
4. Use the SKStoreReviewController API to provide users with the easiest and most convenient (for them) way to rate and review your mobile app. In this way, they will be able to submit feedback through Apple's standardized prompt without leaving the app, in a seamless, non-intrusive way. After prompting once, make sure to wait for some time before prompting the same user again — until they demonstrate their additional engagement which generally comes in several days to a couple weeks. Overall, SKStoreReviewController allows the rate prompt to be shown up to three times within a year (365 days).
5. Arrange a system in your iOS app's interface that would divide the flow of user feedback into two different lines based on their attitude toward the app. Ideally, you do want dissatisfied users to get in touch with your directly so their negative experience does not bring your poor reviews, at least just yet, giving you time to resolve the issue during a private communication. Begin with making sure your support team's contact information can be easily found, especially in those parts of your app where users are more likely to face any difficulties or dislikes.
6. Consider resetting the summary rating of your app when you release a major update that resolves some important issue(s) in user experience or add an important feature everyone used to be missing in the app. Remember that this resets all territory-specific summary ratings and this step cannot be taken less globally. Once the reset is done, this will be announced to users in a special message to remain displayed in the place of the previous summary rating on your product page until a sufficient number of users have rated the new version and therefore a new summary rating gets visualized. No older summary rating can be restored after that.
Ensure to make use of this feature sparingly as although it can be tempting for you to have a summary rating that always reflects the most up-to-date version of your app, potential users may feel discouraged from installing it if they do not see the summary number of stars.
7. Do your best to respond to all user reviews in order to clearly acknowledge every piece of feedback, in this way demonstrating devotedness. Once a review is responded, the system sends the corresponding notification to its author. Reviewers are given an option to edit their feedback at any time and you can enable notifications about such changes on your end, too. You should also feel free to modify your own responses whenever needed. In case of multiple edits submitted to the same response within a short period, such as when you decide to fix a typo, a change notification is sent just once. Only the latest versions of each review and response appear on your app's product page. Note that if you respond to a user's review and them the user edits it, your response will not be automatically removed unless you edit it or remove it by yourself.
8. If there are too many reviews and you cannot respond to every one in due time, think of applying some prioritization principle. For example, that is usually a good idea to start answering negative reviews with the poorest ratings as well technical issue reports — in this way, you will show everyone you are trustworthy and let them know the corresponding issue is already being worked on.
9. Pay special attention to providing replies to all reviews that touch upon a certain bug or disadvantage that you've just fixed in a new version of your app. Those users will gladly check how it is improved. Moreover, they will be excited to know you have been listening to them, and, not least, they will be very likely to re-engage with your app if they have abandoned it by then.
10. Although you are allowed to respond to all and any reviews from your app users regardless of how old they are and Apple does not restrict this in any way, do your best to react to every new piece of feedback as soon as possible after it is published. Moreover, choose to receive instant notifications about every update users push to their reviews that you posted a response to earlier by enabling special automatic email alerts in App Store Connect (go to the ‘Users and Roles’ part). This will ensure you are getting in touch with them at a time when they are especially interested to share their feedback with you and, in general, hear about your app. In addition, other users will be able to see your response and explanation (which is especially important for reviews that are not entirely positive or that report an issue), as well as appreciate your promptness and attention to the audience.
11. When writing replies, make sure to be extremely respectful, polite, and even friendly while staying consistent with your brand's tone of voice, as well as so clear, concise, and accurate as possible. Opt for the maximum possible personalization of text in your replies instead of practicing generic comments even when reviews are especially alike. Avoid using spam, marketing language, and evading giving a clear answer to a direct question. Never include any personal information that you might have as an app developer or otherwise.
12. Report to Apple a review that you find containing any sort of spam, offense, or other content violating Apple's rules and regulations. This can be done in App Store Connect, using the 'Report a Concern' option under the review. There is no need to reply to such a review in this case. No worries: The review's author will not receive any notifications that would indicate that you submitted concerns about the content of their review.
13. When billing issues or downloading errors are reported by a user in their review, advise them to Apple's Support Team directly. Apple will get in touch with you in case it is found out that a solution of the reported problem should be worked out or implemented on your end.
Learn more about working with ratings, reviews, and responses in further details from Apple.
When organizing ASO activities regarding your iOS app’s reviews and ratings, make sure to:
Starting from iOS 11, users can see and launch in-app purchases (IAP) directly from product pages. Moreover, every promoted IAP is now indexed and can appear in the App Store search results as well. In addition, IAPs may get featured in the ‘Apps,’ ‘Games,’ and ‘Today’ tabs. As far as the composition of an IAP listing is concerned, Apple allows each in-app purchase to have a name (title) of up to 30 characters, a description of up to 45 characters, and a square promotional image.
Under these new rules, in-app purchases have become another important factor of mobile app visibility on the Apple App Store, which can significantly enhance app discoverability and download rates if leveraged properly within the framework of ASO:
Consequently, you should carefully optimize your IAP listings to make them not only catch the eye but also rank for keywords that are new to your iOS app and not mentioned in the indexed assets of your app profile.
There are four types of in-app purchases available on Apple’s App Store. Consumable IAPs are designed for one-time use but may be purchased multiple times. Non-consumable IAPs are supposed to be purchased once and do not expire or lose any power with use or over time. Auto-renewable subscriptions provide users with special content for a certain, predetermined period of time and get renewed automatically once it ends (learn more). Non-renewing subscriptions are subscriptions featuring a limited duration and, as the name suggests, these do not renew automatically. Only non-consumable purchases may appear in the app search results.
Overall, no more than 20 in-app purchases may be simultaneously showcased on a product page, including subscriptions — these are promoted the same way in a separate section but, treated as a variation of IAP, must comply with the same rules and share the same all-IAP limits. To raise awareness of specific offers — such as items, options, and sales with time-limited availability — developers are allowed to keep full control of the sort order.
1. Pay special attention to crafting promotional images. They are the only IAP-specific type of graphical media asset supported and should be ones that best describe the corresponding in-app purchase in a visual way. Remember a promotional image should look compelling even in small sizes as it is usually shown smaller than the full 1024 x 1024 pixel resolution required, and then it is further scaled down to accommodate smaller screens.
Because your mobile app's icon will be demonstrated in the lower left corner of the promotional image when an IAP shows up beyond your product page, e.g. in the search results or in a tab where it is featured, make sure these pictures look harmonious together and no significant element of the promotional image happens to be hidden by the app icon. It is not recommended to put any small graphical or text details on promotional images to not hinder a quick insightful view.
2. Thoroughly work out the textual metadata, IAP display names and descriptions, as these are the only texts to be shown about each IAP. They have strict character length limits, so you cannot avoid keeping them short and straight to the point. Do your best in putting the essence of your IAP down in descriptive and accurate words, highlighting its benefits for the user. Avoid vague, generic terms and phrases. Instead, be as specific as possible on the essence of each IAP. The best practices often include a direct or indirect (e.g. semantic) link with the app name in the IAP display name.
3. Be especially attentive when working on the IAPs’ display names as these texts are indexed by Apple’s App Store search engine, and therefore, they are determinative of the corresponding IAP's ranking and can be extremely — and uniquely — helpful in boosting the visibility of your iOS app throughout the App Store when used properly. Consider adding more of the target keywords that you did not manage to include in the title, subtitle, or keywords field of your mobile app’s profile but that are nonetheless relevant.
4. Apple permits to have up to 20 in-app purchases in active promotion at a time, and ideally you should use all the slots in order to make the most of the additional visibility boost potential arising from the IAP promotion opportunity.
5. While you are only allowed to promote 20 in-app purchases max, you may submit extra ones for approval and keep them ready to launch for promotion as soon as you need. This can be helpful, for instance, when you have a long-term plan of multiple time-limited IAP offers.
6. Since users are sent to your app to proceed with the in-app purchase and in order to streamline the whole process for them, make sure they are shown the payment sheet once they've got into the app.
7. Think of the order in which the active in-app purchases should appear on your app’s product page and apply the most effective one.
8. Consider adding personalization in terms of what in-app purchases users can see listed on a certain device. It can be useful, for instance, to show only those IAP that are not installed on their devices, display the most relevant offers on the basis of what they have done in your iOS app or how the play if that's a game, and so on, via the dedicated SKProductStorePromotionController API.
9. Think of launching introductory offers — free trials or discounts — for in-app purchases that are auto-renewable subscriptions. This can be effective in attracting more new subscribers.
10. Test different versions of metadata and customizations such as IAP sort order, device-specific view, and so on, to find the most effective versions and combinations.
11. Apple allows in-app purchases’ display names and descriptions to be localized, so you should do that. In this way, you will make sure your IAP listings are clearly seen and intuitively comprehended in all target groups from the point of view of linguistic and cultural appropriacy.
See Apple’s guidelines on promoting in-app purchases for more information.
Get more info on the IAP properties and requirements.
Make sure your iOS app’s in-app purchase promotions have:
Localization of your iOS app's listing on the App Store is actually an easy — and usually quite low-cost — means to attract more users from around the world. Its purpose is to provide basic, essential conditions for your product's global success by enhancing its chances of getting discovered, interested in, and well-received by Spanish, German, French, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and other people among iPhone and iPad users in addition to English-speaking audiences.
To start with, you should clearly understand that the localization process does not only consist in making a pure, direct translation when you have English words mechanically substituted by similar words in another language. Generally, it is a broader term which means more involved, sophisticated adaptation of a mobile app’s textual and graphical metadata to a local territory and culture, making that something read, look and feel as close to local in character as possible.
For instance, on the one hand, there are some notable differences in how Portuguese is spoken in Brazil against Portugal, or French in France against Canada and Switzerland's French-speaking regions, or Spain in Spain against Latin American countries, and so on, let alone lots of more in-depth and further segmented cultural specificities and peculiarities that might take place in various languages from area to area. On the other hand, if you are growing a general sports app, you can use 'baseball' as a hot keyword for the United States where baseball is famous, but it is hardly effective for Europe as baseball is much less popular over there; and so on.
Basically, there are differences even within English, e.g. between the United States and the United Kingdom, in how multiple words are spelled and used.
When publishing an iOS app, Apple allows you to add different languages and use localized metadata for your app or game. In particular, you have the opportunity to localize app names, subtitles, keywords, descriptions, screenshots, previews, and more. Currently, Apple supports the following 39 languages and culture-specific locales:
In one of our next articles, we will share more specific tips and guidelines for how localization can and should be used and configured for the end of the most effective international App Store optimization of mobile apps and games.
Featuring in editorial picks is a very powerful driver of downloads and installs on the App Store. This is principally explicable by the fact that users know they can be sure about the high quality of the apps curated by Apple.
To raise your iOS app's chances of getting noticed by the App Store's editorial staff responsible for such featurings, you should actually pitch it to them. We remember the time when this was much more complicated, being tightly connected to finding the editors' contact information as the very first step. But now letting them know is as simple as that: Just fill out a quick online form on the Apple Developer portal, which is, by the way, the same for iOS, macOS, and tvOS apps and games.
"If you are launching a new app or game, releasing a significant update, or have a great story idea for Today, we want to hear about it," Apple puts it directly.
When filling out the App Store promotion request form, pay special attention to the fields 'Describe Your App' and 'Your Story' as these are where you actually should provide a captivating pitch.
In 'Describe Your App,' let them know about the key features and functionality of your app. Apple is known to prefer apps that make good use of its own technologies, so you should list what Apple technologies your app supports. Then, describe your business model in a couple of lines, and briefly tell them where you are headed with this product. The length of the text allowed to be put in the 'Describe Your App' field is limited to 1000 characters max.
Everyone loves stories more than raw facts. Use the 'Your Story' field to tell Apple about yourself, what inspired you to build the app you are asking them to promote, and what's your app's (preferably unique) story. Keep in mind that editors might select your story 'as is' for featuring on the 'Today' tab. The length of the text permitted to be added to 'Your Story' is restricted to up to 1000 characters as well.
Expect the dedicated article on our blog, disclosing and discussing criteria used by the App Store editors to assess apps and how to impress them to the biggest possible extent and finally get your iOS app featured — it is in our plans.
The number of installs within a period of time is one of the most important metrics used by the Apple App Store’s search engine as a ranking factor for iOS apps. Consistently demonstrating meaningful traction in terms of new users, your app gains relevance. As a result, the app grows in the rankings, with further rising chances of getting featured in editorial picks and top app charts.
To give this factor a real boost, you should carefully consider launching extra, non-metadata-based user acquisition activities, both free (organic) and paid. For instance:
We will add more articles on this topic to give you a more in-depth understanding of each kind of platform, technique, and tools of extra user acquisition to boost your iOS app’s ASO level.
Black Hat ASO is a set of special App Store optimization techniques that allows developers and publishers to quickly improve discoverability and visibility of their apps and games on the App Store when needed, aimed to ensure an extra boost to the number of organic downloads and installs.
As the name of this method suggests, it does not generally agrees to the rules of the App Store and is dogmatically treated as cheating. So we call on you to not resort to Black Hat ASO as practicing these tactics will almost certainly result in your app getting rejected and maybe even in your developer account being suspended forever.
To help you figure out what Black Hat ASO is all about and get a clear idea of what activities and approaches to avoid when conducting the App Store optimization for your iOS apps and games, here's a quick list of what could have been helpful if it had not been restricted:
We will look into each of these and maybe even more sophisticated Black Hat App Store Optimization techniques and tricks in a dedicated article. However, we urge you to adhere to the allowed, ‘White Hat ASO’ effort instead anyway.
Once you've submitted your iOS app with all necessary ASO improvements, that is the time to start monitoring and analyzing the results of your App Store optimization efforts in order to see if everything works well and the way you want. Keep track of the main app success metrics against your ASO KPIs — installs, openings, conversions, rankings (by category and by keyword), ratings and reviews, etc. Make amendments when needed.
Do not hesitate to make use of A/B testing as this is a great way to make the right choice between two or more versions of an app name, subtitle, promotional text, description, as well as an icon, screenshots, previews, and so on. A/B test as much as you can to ensure the best wording, keywording, and graphics are used at all times.
To learn about how this needs to be done and what tricks you can implement, stay tuned. We will additionally share tips and advice on how to analyze the app statistics and informedly re-evaluate the ASO strategy and goals, ASO tactics and objectives, and ASO tools and techniques in use. In the meantime, you are welcome to refer to Apple’s general Gain Insights with Analytics information.
Want to (have us) add, correct, or clarify anything? Got a cool insight or example from practice? Get in touch!
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